How to overcome a kitchen routine

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“Do you like to cook?” When I’ve been presented with this question in the past, I’ve always responded with some kind of enthusiasm (“Of course!”) or quipped affirmatively (“Duh”), depending on my penchant for sarcasm at the time. But recently, the question has given me pause, and I’m not alone. “I’ve based a substantial part of my life and personality on the answer to that question being yes,” cookbook author Ella Risbridger told me during a Zoom call. “But no, don’t make me cook.” Washington Post readers have shared similar sentiments, expressing being in a rut, lacking inspiration and missing their mojo in the kitchen even though they once loved it.

Part of that is because people have been forced into the kitchen more than usual over the past couple of years. “When you tell someone you have to do anything, it becomes less fun,” says Risbridger. In addition, society is suffering from a mental health crisis caused by all the anxiety-producing events we are experiencing, such as global health emergencies, inflation and economic uncertainty, racial injustice, and the battle for bodily autonomy, just to name a few. .

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For baker and licensed therapist Jack Hazan, finishing his upcoming cookbook, “Mind Over Batter,” led to a recent burnout. “It was caused by the pressure, the uncertainty, the monotony and feeling insecure about what I was doing,” he says.

If any of these feelings resonate with you, here are some strategies to rekindle your love of cooking.

“For me, baking is a relationship, and I almost had a breakup,” says Hazan. “Desire in long-term relationships doesn’t just fall from the sky, does it? You have to reinvent yourself and try new things.” One way to do that was by buy new baking tools. If you’re on a budget, you might hold off on buying a stand mixer, but look for fun spoons and spatulas that beg to be used.

Or maybe it’s decision fatigue that’s worn you down. The Eat Voraciously newsletter tells you what to eat for dinner four nights a week, along with ideas for substitutions based on your preferences and what’s in your pantry. Cookbook Roulette, where you grab a cookbook off the shelf, flip to a random page, and cook whatever dish is in front of you (feel free to go backwards or forwards a page for some flexibility) is an easy way to leave the dinner in the winds of destiny. And if you want the added bonus of not having to grocery shop, meal kit delivery services are a great option to consider.

Find new sources of inspiration

“When you’re in a rut, it’s really important to find new inspiration, to find new ideas,” says Risbridger. It’s about finding something that excites you. It could be dishes completely new to you or simply ingredients you’ve never cooked with or even seen before. “Buy cookbooks from people you don’t know,” she says, and if you don’t want to buy new cookbooks, check the Internet or social media for free ideas. One of his favorite sources of inspiration is going to markets full of ingredients he knows nothing about. (“In my case, it’s usually the Polish supermarket.”) Then you can ask people at the store or in your networks what to do with them, which could also lead to a delicious recipe you haven’t tried never before like “a really nice conversation with a stranger,” he says. “Then you have that spark of human connection that makes it exciting to try.”

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“A very easy place to get into a rut is when you say to yourself, I don’t have anyone to cook for. No one will notice if I just eat bread,” says Risbridger. Her last cookbook, The Year of Miracles, was meant to be about cooking for others, but then it became “this book about having nothing and trying to think of a reason to cook for anyway” because of when it was. written (2020).

Now that we’re not under such strict lockdowns, invite people over for dinner, depending on your comfort level, simply as a guest or to cook with you. When “you have two people in a kitchen, you feel connected,” says Hazan, who offers cooking therapy as a form of treatment for her patients. (Alternatively, you can do a meal exchange to practice social distancing.)

Another option is to turn to family recipes. For Hazan, he began by exploring his grandmother’s Syrian pasta recipes that I have never cooked before. “When I jumped into a whole different kind of thinking, it was not only exciting, but it was something that fed my soul, because it was personal to me,” says Hazan. “I felt connected to what I was doing, which allowed the joy to come out.”

If you don’t have access to your own family recipes, ask for those of other people in your life who you care about. “Even when I’m physically alone, it’s a lovely way to feel connected,” says Risbridger.

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“Don’t go there alone,” says Hazan. Reach out to friends or join online communities that can offer support, which Hazan credits with helping him get through his baking routine. “There are a lot of other people going through what you’re going through. And they may not be there now, but they’ve been there before.” While acknowledging the reluctance some may feel to reach out “because they don’t want to burden people,” Hazan I encourage you to do it anyway, because this hesitation is often unfounded.

“A kitchen routine can often feel quite isolating and quite hopeless and like you’re stuck. And I think that lonely stuckness perpetuates itself,” says Risbridger. “Getting to reach people and talking to people about what excites them about food is a really nice way to shake things up and get some perspective and feel like a person.”

“I don’t make guarantees, but I guarantee that if at one point in your life you really enjoyed cooking or baking, and right now you don’t, give it space to come back to you and it will,” says Hazan, citing a quote from author Anne Lamott: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

Of course, you still have to feed yourself while you wait for the joy to return, but that doesn’t mean these time-consuming meals have to be boring. “Fill your fridge with things you enjoy eating that could liven up a bowl of rice,” says Risbridger. Some of her favorites include frozen dumplings (“The sweetest food you can have. It’s a little fancy, little packets of goodness”), sauerkraut, kimchi and eggs (“Egg on anything, and you’re like, oh, wow, what a meal”).

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While you wait, try not to feel too bad about your lost love of cooking. “Take the pressure off,” he says. “If you’re someone who used to love cooking, you’ll have an idea that will bring you back to the kitchen at some point. You will see a recipe that will make you think: ‘I have to do this’”.

How to overcome a kitchen routine and regain joy in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below.

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